Nature and Biodiversity

We’ve trapped nature action in a silo. An ecological mindset in leadership can help

We have siloed nature action to the specialists — but to win the fight against climate change, we all must adopt an ecological mindset.

We have siloed nature action to the specialists — but to win the fight against climate change, we all must adopt an ecological mindset. Image: Suzie McErvale

Shruthi Vijayakumar
Matt Sykes
Founder & Chief Regeneration Officer, Regeneration Projects
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Nature and Biodiversity?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of the Environment is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Climate and Nature

  • We have an ingrained habit of trapping our care for nature into silos, whether that's a government ministry or Indigenous communities.
  • But breaking out of that siloed thinking is key to effecting the global change required to confront climate change.
  • An ecological mindset in us and our leaders is essential.

In spite of our growing number of projects, investments, departments and commitments to protect and restore nature, there is a growing gap between ambition and action. The heart of the issue, as David Suzuki puts it, is that “we’ve come to think we’re so smart, we’re at the top of the pyramid and everything below is for us.”

As a result, we have an ingrained habit of trapping our care for nature into silos — be it a Sustainability Team, Government Ministry or Indigenous communities; making this a responsibility of a set few to study, think about and act upon.

We see protecting nature as an item on our to-do list, often below immediate economic goals — thinking this is the most essential priority for our existence. One way we can conceptualize this is as “weak sustainability.”

We fail to see that without a healthy environment, we and our businesses cannot be well. As one Māori whakatauki (proverb) says: “When the land is well, the people are well.”

The World Health Organization estimates more than 13 million deaths annually are due to avoidable environmental causes. Polluted air, water and soil is harming human health and rising temperatures, for example, by enabling mosquitoes to spread diseases farther and faster.

Nature’s prison break moment

“The first law of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else”

Barry Commoner, Biologist

An ecological mindset invites us to recognize that the health and wellbeing of our families, communities and nations are deeply interdependent with the health of our Earth and Her ecosystems. As we break free from the limitations of human-centric worldviews, we start leading and acting based on the knowledge that nature is the foundation of our survival and biggest hope for a safe, just future in every sense; socially, culturally and financially. One way we can conceptualize this is as “strong sustainability.”

Until we, as leaders, adopt an ecological mindset, our best efforts will fail to keep our species alive and well, let alone thrive.

Ecological leadership can deliver strong sustainability and aid the global fight against climate change.
Ecological leadership can deliver strong sustainability and aid the global fight against climate change. Image: Skringar, M. E. R., Makris, M. P., & Williams, S. Systemic and institutional barriers to core sustainability: Tackling the elephant in the room

4 key principles of the ecological mindset

We acknowledge Indigenous and ancient wisdom traditions have been leaders of an Ecological Mindset for thousands of generations, here are our insights in progress:

  • Stewardship: Understanding our interdependence with Nature and seeing care, protection and stewardship of our Earth as a foundational goal for any organization.
  • Interdependence: Cultivating respect and reverence for the Earth by recognizing that we are nothing without Her gifts and ecosystem services, from food and water to climate regulation, pollination and spiritual connection.
  • Collaboration: Partnering with nature in decision-making, biomimicry and innovation, while considering the rights of present and future generations, both human and non-human.
  • Adaptation: For millennia, our Earth has adapted to change and continues to self-regenerate. For our part, learning from Her in how we can adapt community and business development to local contexts, nurture diversity to create greater resilience, reinvest back into places and honour seasons, cycles and balance (rather than following linear models of constant activity and growth).

An ecological mindset in learning and education

Ecological Literacy is the understanding of how life works, how nature functions and its principles and processes. It’s time to challenge educational silos and integrate nature into any subject be it health, business, law, design, construction, design, psychology or history.

This work is already underway in many places. The Business for Nature Fellowship from example, is an incubator and learning experience that supports ecological entrepreneurs to develop themselves and businesses that centre the restoration and protection of nature. Other benchmark educational initiatives like the Edible Schoolyard Project, La Lucena and Fundación Agroecológica Iguazú use the medium of organic gardening, growing trees and agriculture to regenerate land and teach interdisciplinary knowledge and values of stewardship, care, nourishment and community.

Fire Circle focuses on the sharing of ecological knowledge. It is a global initiative that brings Indigenous wisdom to business and community leaders and students in culturally safe ways, such through an MBA program at Oxford Saïd Business School. Ora New Zealand is another source of inspiration, in Aotearoa New Zealand, delivering educational workshops in the native bush sharing the traditional healing wisdom of Māori and their ways of caring for the mauri (life essence) of both people and the planet.

Have you read?

An ecological mindset in business

Regardless of whether initiatives like The Biodiversity Plan require us to, we must recognize how any harm done to Nature and communities eventually leads to our own harm. When launching a product or closing a unit, we must understand what the varied impacts on nature's ecosystems and our own communities are. In some businesses, this is already starting.

Leaders of Mars Corporation boldly asked the question “What is the right level of profit?” in an effort to strive for balance and mutuality rather than maximizing the bottom line with little care for the repercussions.

An ecological mindset questions our commercial goal, spurring us to ask: What is the reason for our organization’s existence?

More businesses are starting to see nature as a stakeholder. Regeneration Projects has worked with a multi-sector alliance of tourism industry leaders on Australia’s Phillip Island, to see whales, penguins and other local wildlife as stakeholders. This approach is advancing ways to engage visitors and businesses in volunteering and investing in local ecosystems.

These shifts must be institutionalized into the structure, ownership and governance of our organizations. Well known examples of this include Patagonia, which made Earth its owner, and UK Beauty B Corp Faith in Nature’s constitution gives Earth a vote. Indigenous, family, employee and charity-owned businesses are replete with more examples of this. One such example is Wakatū Incorporation in Aotearoa New Zealand, an Indigenous Owned Group with property, food and beverage businesses that are driven by a 500-year intergenerational vision, centred on regeneration of land, strengthening culture and community.

Our old systems are falling apart. They’re no longer fit for the challenges of today. Leaders who follow the momentum by becoming early adopters of ecological mindsets are unlocking new opportunities and ways of organizing, educating, governing and doing business.

Time is of the essence, will you be this leader for your community and our Earth?

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

What is the UN's Summit of the Future in 2024 and why is it important?

Kate Whiting

July 23, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Sign in
  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum